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Search & rescue in the high north

As the rate of Arctic maritime activity increases, so does the need for specialized accident response. Maritime 21 has launched a national initiative to build a world-class search and rescue competence in Norway’s High North.


Over the past year, Norway’s maritime research strategy program Maritime 21 has worked with 10 partners on a pre-project report to create SARiNOR, a joint industry project focusing on search and rescue services in the High North.


The project proposal, launched in April, was written by research organizations MARINTEK and Akvaplan-niva together with Norwegian organizations Maritime Forum, Maritime 21, Norwegian Shipowners’ Association and Norwegian Hull Club, the Norwegian subsidiaries of international oil companies ENI and Shell, Nordland County and the Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Bodø.


“The starting point for this project is that there have been accidents,” said Tor Husjord, Maritime Forum North leader, at SARiNOR’s pre-project kick-off in April. He was one of 13 Norwegian navy personnel to survive a tragic weather-related accident in the North Atlantic in 1963 that claimed 19 lives.


”Ice is melting, tourism is increasing, and there is more petroleum activity,” said Husjord. “In the future, there can be four-lane waterways through the passage.”


Building Blocks

The plan calls for an investment of NOK 20 million starting in 2013 over three years for eight working groups: gap analysis, alarm and warning systems, search, rescue, survival in cold climates, shared situational awareness, training and competence development, and project and communication management.


The project will start with a GAP analysis that will determine the work pattern going forward. It will partly build upon the knowledge gained from DNV’s Barents 2020 report, a four-year project on the harmonization of health, safety and environmental (HSE) standards for the Barents Sea where the basic assumption is that protection of the environment and the resources is a shared responsibility between Norway and Russia.


The working groups from phase three of Barents 2020 agreed on 130 standards to safeguarding personnel, environment, and asset values in connection with offshore operations. One of the seven selected topics specifically addressed were recommended standards for evacuation and rescue of people from ships and offshore units, including standards for rescue equipment.


“Barents 2020 wrote about HSE, so we are not starting from scratch,” said Tor Einar Berg, Marintek research engineer and SARiNOR project leader. He also cited INSTOK’s RU-NO project (Russian - Norwegian Oil & Gas Industry Cooperation in the High North), the Arctic Development Roadmap by Canada’s Centre for Cold Ocean Resources Engineering (C-Core), and Marintek’s gap analysis MarSafe North (Maritime Safety in the High North), which in 2011 made 28 recommendations for enhancing maritime safety management in the Arctic regions.


National Duty

Other countries, such as Russia, Canada, Denmark and Greenland have done similar efforts. There are even hopes that SARiNOR will attract Russian participants, such as Sovcomflot, Murmansk Shipping, CNIIMF and other research communities. But SARiNOR is meant to be an initiative that puts Norwegian industry at the forefront.


“It is of national importance that we put this on the agenda and the authorities contribute,” said Rolf Ole Eriksen, Norske Shell project leader for northern areas. “It is clear that we have challenges in the northern areas which we can only solve together.”


So far, the SARiNOR partners are still in the pre-project phase. The project has received NOK 10 million in public funding from Nordland Country and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The remaining NOK 10 million is expected to come from the industry, including oil, shipping and insurance companies, as well as industrial organizations. The aim is to set an ambition level and complete a gap analysis by 2014 that will set the basis for establishing seven working groups.


“The level today is set by how far helicopters can fly and the number of rescue operations they can do in that radius,” said Erik Dyrkoren, Maritime 21 program leader. “But we need to think of ambition in a much broader sense, not just helicopters, but how other entities can help in a more coordinated way. One thing is new technology, but another is better communication and also competence among seafarers.”


SAR Roadmap

By the end of the project in 2016, SARiNOR will have prepared a roadmap with concrete proposals for the industry and authorities that will help raise the level of understanding of the challenges faced in the event of a search and rescue operation in the High North. This roadmap can also be used to identify the needs for future research and technology projects. SARiNOR plans to help coordinate demonstration projects of potential technical and organizational solutions for warning, coordination and execution of search and rescue operations. 


Tore Wangsfjord, chief of operations at the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Bodø, believes there will be a number of operational challenges in the Arctic to overcome. He highlighted during his presentation at the SARiNOR launch in particular the polar low-pressure system, darkness half of the year, few SAR resources, big distances between infrastructure, and communication challenges in this area.


Another challenge is the inclusion of the formerly disputed area bordering Russia in the Barents Sea, which makes Norway’s area of coverage now bigger than ever, he added. The Norwegian Rescue Service covers the area stretching from 57° north, in the Skagerrak, to 82° north, north of Svalbard. The current agreement for SAR in the Arctic is based on the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic (see illustration), the international treaty agreed in 2011 among the members of the Arctic Council Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US.




Caption: Bridge onboard Farstad Shipping’s platform supply vessel Far Searcher.

Credit: Farstad Shipping




Caption: KV Andenes in Barents Sea.

Credit: Are Mathiesen/Forsvarens mediesenter




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